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Backed by such familiar names as AMD, Cisco, HP, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Red Hat, Sun, and VMware, the Distributed Management Task Force (DMTF) has joined the increasingly fragmented fight for so-called open cloud standards.

Today, the DMTF announced the formation of an "Open Cloud Standards Incubator," charged with developing a set of specifications for online distributed computing operations along the lines of Amazon Web Services - operations generally referred to as infrastructure clouds.

The DMTF is the organization behind the open virtualization format (OVF), an effort to standardize virtual machines so that they can easily move between competing VM platforms.

"A number of members of the DMTF believe that OVF is a key building block for cloud interoperability," says DMTF president Winston Bumpus, also the director of standards architecture at VMware. "And these leaders have gotten together to work on extensions for OVF that apply to cloud computing and also to address the protocols and APIs used by clouds as well as security and the whole issue of federated trust."

The increasingly-meaningless cloud moniker is often applied to online development platforms a la Google App Engine and even web-based applications such as Gmail and Google Docs. But in this case, Bumpus is referring to services that provide dynamically-scalable access to pooled compute resources, including processing power and storage. This would include public clouds like Amazon Web Services and similar offerings from companies such as Flexiscale and GoGrid, and also so-called private infrastructure clouds built inside a company's own data center.

"We're focused on infrastructure as a service," Bumpus says. "And that might include private clouds...We're seeing people really using clouds privately or through various service providers. There's real concern about lock-in and the complexity of the market, with all the different platforms out there. We think this is a great opportunity to standardize the interfaces of these various clouds and the package formats, and figure out what the security models need to be."

In other words, the DMTF is hoping to make it easier for companies to move their applications and data from cloud to cloud - whether these clouds are inside the companies' data centers, outside, or both. Of course, the DMTF isn't first. The world already has the Open Cloud Consortium, the comical Open Cloud Manifesto, and countless other open-cloud-obsessed collectives.

Thankfully, the DMTF has at least realized that open cloud standards should extend beyond the API. "That's why we think it's important that we look at OVF," Bumpus says. "You have to address virtualization as the place where the services hit and we have to address interoperability there as well."

No, the DMTF is not backed by Amazon, the most conspicuous player in the fledgling cloud market. For the moment, Amazon is content to stand outside the fray. "We think it's very early," the company has told us. "Vendors as well as customers need to collectively educate themselves over time to understand what in terms of standards will truly be useful and helpful, and we will continue to be active participants in that discussions." ®

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